Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Outside View: A nuclear-armed Taliban? - UPI

Rescue workers put out the blaze as NATO soldiers stand guard at the scene of a suicide attack in Kabul, Afghanistan on September 8, 2009

By LAWRENCE SELLIN, UPI Outside View Commentator

A nuclear-armed Taliban? It may not be as far-fetched as it might first appear.

The Taliban already control or have a significant presence in northwest Pakistan along a critical stretch of the Afghan border. Taliban units operate with relative impunity in the region surrounding Peshawar, Pakistan's major population, commercial and transportation center less than 100 miles from Pakistan's capital, Islamabad.

Dominance of Taliban and al-Qaida forces in the pivotal northwest region of Pakistan provides not only a sanctuary and training centers for attacks on Afghanistan, but it has become a base of operations to weaken any pro-Western sentiments among the Pakistani people and the government in Islamabad.

Not the least of which are the attacks the Taliban and al-Qaida have mounted against Pakistani nuclear sites in the neighboring province of Punjab. According to an article published in the Long War Journal by Bill Roggio, attacks on the Kamra and Sargodha air bases may have been designed to intimidate officers either on the fence or who do not support the Islamists and erode the military's capacity to defend nuclear installations. The Taliban's control of northwest Pakistan and its strong presence, along with al-Qaida, in Quetta and Baluchistan province in general is a threat to the status quo in both Afghanistan and Pakistan.

If unchecked, an unambiguous Taliban victory in Afghanistan will not only produce mass executions on a scale not seen since the killing fields of Pol Pot's Cambodia and a refugee crisis like Darfur, but it will produce massive political aftershocks and enormously strengthen the hand of radical elements throughout the region. We are only fooling ourselves if we believe that a Taliban-controlled Afghanistan will not become a center for the export of radical Islamic ideology and terrorism.

According to Gen. Stanley McChrystal's recent assessment: "Afghanistan's insurgency is clearly supported from Pakistan. Senior leaders of the major Afghan insurgent groups are based in Pakistan, are linked with al-Qaida and other violent extremist groups and are reported aided by some elements of Pakistan's (intelligence service)."

With a base of operations already existing in western Pakistan, a Taliban victory in Afghanistan will only increase the likelihood of radical elements challenging for control of the Pakistani government. If turmoil breaks out in Pakistan, the United States and its allies may be placed in the unenviable position of securing Pakistani nuclear sites -- at least those of which we are aware. Even without a change in government, a more radical Pakistan may increase the possibility of nuclear proliferation. Case in point is that of radical Pakistani nuclear scientist A.Q. Khan, who allegedly provided critical nuclear secrets to rogue states such as Iran and North Korea or, more ominously, to terrorist groups.

The secondary and tertiary effects of a Taliban victory in Afghanistan should not be underestimated.

Attacks by the Taliban and other radical insurgent groups against Pakistan proper are increasing. According to the National Counterterrorism Center, terrorist operations in Pakistan more than doubled in 2008. Pakistan's present civil unrest and political turmoil is already of concern to India. Any increase of the influence of radical elements within Pakistan could greatly exacerbate tension between them, especially in the aftermath of the November 2008 terrorist attacks in Mumbai. The stability of Pakistan is threatened more by the radical groups within its own territory than by India. Diplomatic steps need to be taken to focus more attention on internal threats than on those Pakistan believes to exist on its eastern border.

Any perceived rout of Western forces and Taliban control of Afghanistan will enhance the position of radical factions in Iran and further demoralize the nascent Iranian democracy movement. It will strengthen Iran's position internationally and create a nuclear-armed belt of instability from India in the east to Iraq in the west. One wonders if the progress that has been made in Iraq could possibly be sustained in the face of defeat in Afghanistan and how it would affect the strategic choices for Israel, which seem increasingly narrow when facing a nuclear-armed Iran with a ballistic missile delivery capability.

The entire region is a volatile mixture of ethnic, religious, tribal, nationalistic and historical grievances dating back 1,000 years. Fragmentation, prolonged conflict and devastating consequences for the people of the region may be in their future, if the present negative trends toward instability across southwest Asia are not contained and those who support it are not confronted. The United States, its allies and the global community can help, but it is primarily the responsibility of the citizens of that region to move their countries away from the brink.

If not, then the so-called restored caliphate envisioned by Osama bin Laden and the premise of his war on civilization may amount to nothing more than a caliphate of chaos, destruction and collapse.

VIDEO: The returnee - Afghan women in business

Hassina Sherjan returned to Afghanistan after 23 years in the US, determined to create a company that would provide employment to help people turn away from the insurgency.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

New NATO Chief Says America's Allies Stand Firm Against Taliban

In his first major speech in the United States, the new head of NATO is expected to respond Monday, to President Obama's concerns that the United States is doing the lion's share of the fighting in Afghanistan. In prepared remarks, Anders Fogh Rasmussen acknowledges more resources are needed to fight the battle against the Taliban. However, he is expected ask the United States to stop downplaying efforts by America's allies.

The new head of NATO is set to defend the international body's contribution to the fight in Afghanistan.

Last week, U.S. President Barack Obama said there was "an almost reflexive anti-Americanism", which was stopping some countries from stepping up to the plate.

Anders Fogh Rasmussen is expected to say that is just not true.

The new NATO head's prepared remarks say he understands Washington's frustration. But he will warn that American downplaying international efforts could prove a self-fulfilling prophecy.

He is expected to say America's allies are not running from the fight. Nine thousand additional non-U.S. troops have joined the battle in Afghanistan in the past 18 months.

The long-drawn-out fight against the Taliban does not have huge popular support in Europe. Already, the Netherlands has set next year as its deadline for a full withdrawal of its troops and Italy has made it known it wants out too.

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates has rejected calls for a withdrawal deadline for American troops, saying that would be a "strategic mistake".

American accusations that its allies are not pulling their weight hit hard in France. In recent days, four French soldiers have been killed in Afghanistan, in two separate accidents.

France has the fourth-largest contingent in Afghanistan, with 3400 troops based around the country.

Monday, September 28, 2009

VIDEO: The Builder - Afghan women in business

Lisa Nooristani is quite literally rebuilding her country. As CEO of a construction company, she oversees school and road projects in the face of death threats from the Taliban.

Private James Prosser killed in Afghanistan

It is with great sadness that the Ministry of Defence must confirm that Private James Prosser from 2nd Battalion The Royal Welsh was killed in Afghanistan, on Sunday 27 September 2009.

Private Prosser died as a result of an explosion that happened during a vehicle patrol in Musa Qaleh district, northern Helmand province.

Private James Prosser

Private James Prosser was born in Cwmbran, on 14 April, 1988 and educated at Llantarnam Comprehensive School before he joined the Army in July 2008. After completing his infantry training at ITC Catterick, Private Prosser joined 2nd Battalion The Royal Welsh in February 2009.

He was posted to A Company and immediately found a home in 2 Platoon. He was a natural Infanteer and relished his job.

Private Prosser was initially employed as a member of a dismounted section before being selected for training as a Warrior Infantry Fighting Vehicle Driver – a role that he both enjoyed and excelled at – prior to his deployment to Afghanistan in July 2009.

Prosser's confidence and affable manner marked him out as one of the more popular of his peers.

Private Prosser was a keen sportsman, and had been a member of Cwmbran Celtics Football Club and Fairwater Falcons Hockey Club. He also enjoyed the cinema and socialising with friends, of which he was never short.

A Company's build-up training for its deployment to Afghanistan was both rigorous and demanding; especially for such a junior soldier, but Pte Prosser took each fresh test in his stride, always acquitting himself well.

He had a real enthusiasm for soldiering, and had a bright future ahead of him. Private Prosser was killed on 27 September 2009 as a result of an explosion whilst driving his Warrior vehicle in the Musa Qal'eh District of Helmand Province.

His family said:

"James is a wonderful son and brother, I am so proud of the man he grew to be. He is dearly loved and cherished by his family and his many friends."

Statement from James's friends:

"We don't know where to start expressing how much you meant, and how much we will miss you. You always were one of the boys and you always will be.

"The amount of respect we have for you is indescribable, a true friend and a real hero forever. We all shared so many good memories with you and we can't believe you are not going to be with us anymore. Take care and sleep tight mate. Love as always from the boys."

Lieutenant Colonel Didi Wheeler, Commanding Officer 2nd Battalion The Royal Welsh said:

"The loss of Private James Prosser to an IED comes as another devastating blow to the Battalion, but more particularly to 2 Platoon, A Company. Although James only joined the Battalion in February this year, he had come to the fore within the company.

"He had a boundless sense of humour and was a true character in every sense despite his relative young age. This brave Welsh Warrior will be sorely missed by so many of us.

"He enjoyed soldiering and had found his home in A Company amongst so many mates upon whom he had made such an impact in so short a period. At this tragic time our thoughts and prayers turn to his immediate family and close friends."

Andy McNab: new recruits are more than 'cannon fodder' - Telegraph

New recruits at the Army Training Centre at Pirbright, Surrey undertake a 14-week training course Photo: Julian Simmonds

The death toll in Afghanistan has reached 217 and the funerals have become ever more poignant – but the bestselling SAS author Andy McNab says Army recruits do not want our pity.

I have just returned from giving a talk on the benefits of Army education to new recruits at the Army Training Centre at Pirbright, Surrey. A red-brick facility with its own parade ground, it delivers the 14-week training course undertaken by all adult recruits when they first join the Army.

On completion of the Common Military Syllabus, these Soldiers Under Training (SUTs) go on to learn their chosen trade, which covers a host of military professions ranging from anti-aircraft radar operator and artillery gunner to Army musician. Pirbright trains more than 4,000 men and women a year, and as such is a good melting pot for almost every kind of soldier.

But chatting to the SUTs at Pirbright that afternoon, one thing became very clear: there is a lot of anger in the air. It has nothing to do with Army pay, conditions, or even the war in Afghanistan; rather, their anger stems from the way they feel they are perceived by "pencilnecks", one of the nicer terms the Army uses to describe civilians.

I hear the same complaint time and time again when I talk with soldiers. What angers these young men and women – and me – greatly, is the belief held by some that recruits only join the Army because they are too thick to do anything else; that soldiers are somehow little lost souls to be pitied; the dregs of society too hopeless to help themselves.

Certainly, there is plenty of evidence to back up their anger. At last year's National Union of Teachers' annual conference, for instance, troops were described as "cannon-fodder for the profits of oil companies", the implication being that soldiers are led like sheep to the slaughter, rather than soldiering being the profession they have chosen for themselves.

Plaid Cymru has called for a ban on Army recruitment in schools. They claim the Army is unfairly targeting schools in the poorest areas of Wales. Again, this furthers the view that new recruits chose the Army only because they have no choice but to sign up.

Judging by those I spoke to at Pirbright, nothing could be further from the truth. Scott Probert, a 21-year-old SUT from Wolverhampton, is joining the Adjutant General's Corps and certainly doesn't believe he and his mates are simply being sent out to Afghanistan as cannon fodder.

"I'm p----- off that the number of people killed in Afghanistan isn't put into perspective," he tells me. "Of course, I understand that troops get killed [in combat]. I understand that one of them might be me. I'm not stupid."

The actual casualty rate in Afghanistan is remarkably low given the intensity of the operations going on. During the Falklands War, the British Army lost 255 men in just two months. As of September 13, a total of 214 British forces personnel or MoD civilians have died serving in Afghanistan since the start of operations in October 2001. Of these, 183 were killed as a result of hostile action.

A hard-nosed calculation like this may seem harsh, and, of course, of no comfort to grieving families and friends, myself included. I lost another friend in action earlier this month who had been killed in action. But war is harsh, and the SUTs at Pirbright understand this better than the pencilnecks ever will. War is about fighting, and that means risking your life. It's what soldiers do.

For the full article on the Telegraph website click here

General complains about US bureaucracy

The commander of US and NATO forces in Afghanistan bitterly complained in an interview Sunday about the Pentagon bureaucracy that he said was hampering his efforts to fight insurgents.

In a profile on CBS television's "60 minutes," General Stanley McChrystal said he faced pressure to move quickly from Defense Secretary Robert Gates while the Pentagon had moved slowly to get officers assigned to his staff.

"The secretary talks in terms of 12 to 18 months to show a significant change and then we eat up two or three months just on sort of getting the tools out of the tool box," McChrystal said, according to a transcript of the show to air later Sunday.

"That really hurts," said McChrystal, shown in a video conference with the Pentagon.

The four-star army general, who was appointed to lead US and NATO forces in Afghanistan in June after the previous commander was sacked, demanded the Defense Department had to move with more urgency.

"The average organization when someone asks when you want something, they pull out a calendar," he said.

"But in a good organization, they look at their watch and we really got to get that way."

McChrystal said he was slightly surprised by the strength of the insurgency when he took over his post.

"I think that in some areas that the breadth of violence, the geographic spread of violence -- places to the north and to the west -- are a little more than I would have gathered," he said.

He also repeated his warning that if the NATO-led mission was perceived as an occupier that posed a threat to civilians, the war would be lost.

For the full AFP article click here

British general supports request for 40,000 new troops in Afghanistan - Times

By Jerome Starkey

Britain’s top general in Afghanistan backed calls for more troops, insisting it would be impossible to deny al-Qaeda their terrorist safe havens by “simply patrolling from the skies”. In an exclusive interview with The Times, Lieutenant-General Jim Dutton, said yesterday that he supported a formal request made by his boss, General Stanley McChrystal, the US commander, for up to 40,000 new troops.

On Friday General McChrystal submitted a formal request to Nato and the Pentagon for a surge in troop numbers to help to tame a growing insurgency.

General Dutton, the deputy commander of Nato’s International Security Assistance Force, insisted that “long-term stability” in Afghanistan was the only way to stop international terrorists using the country as a launch pad for attacks in Europe and the US.

His comments came as continuing violence across the country yesterday claimed the lives of six Nato troops, including a British casualty. The soldier, from the 2nd Battalion of the Royal Welsh Regiment, was hit by a roadside bomb in northern Helmand.

Hours earlier three French marines were killed in a thunderstorm. One was struck by lightning during a night-time foot patrol in Kapisa province, east of Kabul. Two others drowned trying to ford a flooded river.

In southern Afghanistan an American serviceman was killed by an explosion, while a second was fatally wounded in a Taleban ambush.

The growing toll exacted by the campaign has undermined public support, prompting some US officials to suggest scaling back the foreign presence and relying instead on unmanned drones to bomb terrorist training centres as and when they appear.

A leaked report by General McChrystal warned that without more troops the mission risks failure.

General Dutton told The Times that victory was a matter of “straightforward force ratios”. “If you want to achieve long-term stability, and therefore a lack of terrorism potential in an area, you need to be doing more than simply patrolling the skies,” he said.

“The ultimate answer to this problem is a stable democratic state of Afghanistan in which their own forces are capable of maintaining the rule of law and security.”

For the full report click here for the Times online

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Grandfather is oldest member of Armed Forces to battle Taliban.. at 54 - Mirror

A grandfather who was decorated for bravery in the Falklands War has become the oldest member of the Armed Forces to go to war in Afghanistan - at the age of 54.

Lieutenant Commander Bill O'Brien, a Royal Navy pilot who won the Distinguished Flying Medal (DFM) in the 1982 conflict, is now flying Apache attack helicopters in Helmand.

The married dad-of-three retired from regular service four years ago but remained a Navy reservist. He decided to return to the frontline because he had an "itch to scratch".

Speaking from Camp Bastion at the start of a three-month tour last night, he said: "I believe I have a contribution to make - there's some life in the old dog yet!

"The intensity is greater than I was expecting. It's fullon all the time. But we're here to support the guys on the ground. We're here to support the Afghan people. The job needs to be done properly and I believe I can make some small contribution to that."

For the full article click here for the Mirror website

McChrystal Says Insurgents Are Winning Communications Battle - Washington Post

The U.S. military's stepped-up communications effort included releasing this photo of an Afghan commando.

The United States and its allies in Afghanistan must "wrest the information initiative" from the Taliban and other insurgent groups that have undermined the credibility of the Kabul government and its international backers, according to the top U.S. and NATO commander in the country.

"The information domain is a battlespace," Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal wrote in an assessment made public on Monday, adding that the allies need to "take aggressive actions to win the important battle of perception."

As an initial step, McChrystal wants to change the goal of public relations efforts in Afghanistan from a "struggle for the 'hearts and minds' of the Afghan population to one of giving them 'trust and confidence' " in themselves and their government. At the same time, he said, more effort should be made to "discredit and diminish insurgents and their extremist allies' capability to influence attitudes and behavior in Afghanistan."

One way to accomplish that, McChrystal wrote, is to target insurgent networks "to disrupt and degrade" their effectiveness. Another is to expose what he calls the insurgents' "flagrant contravention of the principles of the Koran," including indiscriminate use of violence and terrorism, and attacks on schools and development projects.

McChrystal's approach mirrors one that U.S. intelligence operatives are taking covertly, with some success, in the Middle East, where direct and indirect support is being given to Islamic leaders who speak out against terrorists. Michael E. Leiter, director of the National Counterterrorism Center, said last year that the goal is to show "that it is al-Qaeda, not the West, that is truly at war with Islam."

Echoing that idea, McChrystal recognized in his report that Afghans traditionally communicate by word of mouth. He called for better exploitation of those "more orthodox methods" -- getting "authoritative figures" such as religious leaders and tribal elders to deliver the messages "so that they are credible."

One of the main changes from the current approach should be creating "opportunities for Afghans to communicate as opposed to attempting to always control the message," McChrystal wrote.

Another element he wants changed is the military's public responsiveness to incidents involving U.S. or allied forces that result in Afghan civilian deaths. Overreliance on firepower that kills civilians and destroys homes "severely damaged" the coalition's legitimacy in the eyes of Afghans, he noted, saying the Taliban publicized such incidents.

New procedures must be developed for sharing information about such events, he wrote, so that when they happen, "we are first with the truth."

Read the full article on teh Washington Post website

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Afghanistan Troop Request Delivered - VOA News

The top U.S. military officer has received the eagerly awaited detailed troop request from the top U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan, as the Obama administration continues a top-level review of its strategy.

A military official tells VOA the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen, traveled to Germany Friday for an unannounced half-day meeting on a U.S. Air Base with the Afghanistan commander, General Stanley McChrystal.

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, indicated Admiral Mullen had an idea what the request would be, but wanted to receive the official document in person and hear details directly from General McChrystal. The official could not say specifically how many troops the general wants.

Analysts have said the request could be in the range of 40,000 troops, on top of increases President Barack Obama authorized earlier in the year, which are moving the U.S. troop level to 68,000.

There has been tremendous interest in the impending request since General McChrystal's secret assessment of the Afghanistan situation was published Monday by The Washington Post. It paints a grim picture and says the allied mission could fail without more resources. The assessment has become part of a broad Afghanistan strategy review the president has ordered, involving senior civilian and military officials.

The Pentagon press secretary, Geoff Morrell, and that the general would present a range of options, discuss the risks associated with each, and conclude with a specific recommendation. But he said it will not become part of the strategy review.

"Once he has it, he intends to hold on to it until such time as the president and his national security team are ready to consider it," said the press secretary.

Morrell said there is "no sense in complicating" the strategic review by inserting the troop request.

For the full report click here for VOA News

Five US soldiers die in wave of attacks across southern Afghanistan - Times

Five American soldiers have been killed in a wave of attacks across southern Afghanistan. They died during operations aimed at reversing insurgent gains in parts of the country that were beyond the reach of coalition forces before President Obama’s summer surge.

The deaths come as Washington considers plans to send more troops or, in the words of the top US general in Afghanistan, risk losing the struggle against the insurgents.

Four soldiers were killed in Zabul province on Thursday. Three of them died when their heavily armoured Stryker vehicle was hit by a roadside bomb. The fourth was fatally wounded during a fire fight nearby. Meanwhile, a US Marine was killed in Nimroz, in the southwest of the country.

All of the men were part of a troop surge authorised by President Obama earlier this year which took the number of foreign troops in Afghanistan above 100,000 for the first time since the Soviet occupation.

For the full article click here for the Times Online

Have you found the Major? Not yet

Journalist Michael Yon posted a report this morning - - it makes for interesting reading - and I seem to have been confused as the unnamed major.

Since May last year I have been pretty busy working within Media Ops. I have served in Kosovo with 2 RIFLES and Iraq within MND(SE) and I am now a week away from a tour in Afghanistan, somewhere I have not been since 2006.

I am currently in the UK and am not the unnamed major Michael Yon refers to. With any luck I will have the chance to meet and work with Michael when he returns to Helmand.

Kind regards
Major Paul Smyth

Friday, September 25, 2009

Army medics save Afghan girls – with crushed prawn shells - Independent

Kim Sengupta reports from Helmand

It was early on a summer's morning in Nad-e-Ali, and Amina and Guldasta had run outside to play. They were not to know that the Taliban had laid an explosive device at their favourite spot, a field nestling beside a meadow.

The explosion tore into the two sisters, inflicting dreadful injuries. Eight-year-old Amina's leg was almost severed; Guldasta, a year older, received serious injuries from spraying shrapnel.

The girls' family lived just outside Nad-e-Ali, a part of Afghanistan's Helmand province which had seen ferocious fighting for a prolonged period and a place where medical facilities were, at best, rudimentary.

The sisters were saved from having their legs amputated – and probable death – by a remarkable combination of crushed prawn shells and the ingenuity of British Army medics. The technique is just one of a range of innovations that the doctors there have come to rely on. Faced with a weekly influx of horrific casualties, their improvised and revolutionary procedures are now being adopted internationally for civilian trauma treatment.

"The circumstances in Helmand mean that we are seeing many more severe trauma patients than in most UK hospitals," says Lieutenant General Louis Lillywhite, the Surgeon General of the UK armed forces. "And we have had to learn fast. What we have learned has been useful to the NHS."

For the full story click here for the Independent website

VIDEO: A novel business idea to empower Afghan women

Aziza Mohmmand was forced out by the Taliban for schooling girls. She returned to Afghanistan under their fall with a novel business idea to empower Afghan women.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

RAF Chinooks to get £400m upgrade - BBC

RAF Chinook helicopters which are operating in Afghanistan are to get a £408m upgrade, the Ministry of Defence has announced.

The work will include fitting a more powerful engine to help the aircraft fly in the country's harsh conditions.

It aims to allow the 38-strong fleet to fly further without refuelling and go for longer without servicing.

In July there were criticisms over the availability of helicopters for troops in Afghanistan.

The aircraft will be fitted with more powerful Honeywell engines in a contract costing £128m, and more advanced digitised cockpits to be fitted by Thales in a contract that will cost £280m.

The work is aimed at allowing the helicopters to operate more effectively in the high altitudes and hot summers of Afghanistan.

'Valuable role'

The RAF lost two Chinooks in 10 days in August when one crash-landed and the other was hit by enemy fire and caught fire.

Speaking at the home of the fleet, RAF Odiham, Quentin Davies, the Minister for Defence Equipment and Support, said: "The Chinook is the cornerstone of our helicopter support effort in Afghanistan.

"These improvements will increase its capability and ensure it can play an even more valuable role in supporting our forces and Nato coalition allies in tackling insurgency in Afghanistan.

"Upgrading the Chinook is part of a series of improvements to our battlefield helicopter force and is powerful evidence of our commitment and determination to give our forces the very best equipment."

Several of the eight Mark 3 Chinooks which have not been in service since deliverery in 2001 because they were fitted with the wrong software would now be operating by Christmas, the minister said.

He said it was a "disgraceful story" but blamed the previous Conservative government for signing the contract.

Chinook pilot Flight Lieutenant Dan Padbury, from 27 Squadron, said the new engines were working well.

"It's early days but the new 714 engines have already performed as anticipated and will certainly increase our operational capability," he said.

"Having flown a Chinook fitted with the new engines, I noticed a marked improvement in performance."

Questions have been raised about the number and availability of UK military helicopters deployed in Afghanistan - with some commentators blaming the government for not providing enough.

It has also been argued that the UK could reduce its casualty rate if more soldiers were ferried to operations by air, rather than riskier land routes.

Royal Navy Sea Kings 'bag' intelligence over Helmand

The Royal Navy's unique airborne surveillance and control helicopters, known as 'Baggers', have recently deployed to Helmand for the first time, where they are detecting, following and intercepting insurgent activity.

The Mk7 helicopters are known as Baggers thanks to the large grey 'bag' which contains the aircraft's state-of-the-art radar.

Primarily used in the maritime surveillance role, the helicopter's powerful onboard sensors also enable it to provide valuable battlefield reconnaissance and targeting information at particular times in land operations, and in May this year Sea King Mk7s from 854 Naval Air Squadron (NAS) were deployed to Afghanistan.

After a month acclimatising to conditions in Camp Bastion and exercising with allied forces in theatre, the Baggers and support personnel from 854 NAS were sent aloft on missions from the middle of June onwards.

Commander Matt Avison, Commander Sea King Force, said:

"The job is to throw a light into areas which are regarded as a black hole - vast areas outside the 'Green Zone' in Helmand - and give the commanders on the ground an idea of what is going on.

"Almost every sortie has produced useful information and there have been many - and significant - results."

Home Front: Afghanistan battle for hearts and minds must be won - Times

Picture - New recruits to the Afghan National Army take part in a training session at the Kabul Military Training Centre. A massive effort is under way to train thousands of new troops to join the fight against the Taleban-led insurgency.

By Michael Evans

It was early 2006, and the paratroopers of 16 Air Assault Brigade took a breather during exercises on Salisbury Plain to say what they had been told to say about their forthcoming campaign in Helmand province. “Reconstruction, reconstruction, reconstruction,” they piped in unison.

Three years later the politics of this campaign have changed beyond recognition. Instead of reconstruction, we have had violence and mayhem, and the public in Britain, in the United States and in every country that has troops in Afghanistan are asking what has gone wrong, and if lives are being sacrificed needlessly.

The biggest challenge for the Government now is not how to beat the Taleban but how to keep the public at home onside. People tend to support the Armed Forces whatever they do but if there is any perception that British troops are dying in Afghanistan for no good reason the tide of opinion will turn.

It is difficult to get across the message that Britain is at war. There are no daily bulletins from the Ministry of Defence, as there were when a Royal Navy Task Force was sent off to the Falklands in 1982. But the “Wootton Bassett factor” — the Wiltshire town where mourning crowds gather whenever a hearse carrying a dead soldier passes through — is having an effect on the nation’s psyche.

Other Nato countries have the same problem. In Italy, for example, the mission in Afghanistan is normally described as a peacekeeping operation. Then six Italian soldiers are killed by a suicide bomber, and suddenly it’s a war, and Silvio Berlusconi, the Prime Minister, tells his public that he wants his troops out.

Germany was the forgotten ally, with its troops engaged in non-combat roles in the north until the Taleban began to move in and upset the peace. German soldiers died and the soft rules of engagement had to be changed to allow them to shoot first and ask questions later. Back home in Germany the “war” was suddenly no longer an issue just for the British, Americans, Canadians, Dutch, Danish and Estonians, engaged in daily skirmishes with the Taleban in the south. It was a shock for the German public and for the Berlin Government.

No government can afford to forget the power of public opinion. Despite the mantra that the troops are being sacrificed in Helmand to prevent terrorist attacks on our streets, the argument is difficult to grasp when even the head of MI5 admits that the majority of the terrorist incidents in this country can be linked back to Pakistan — not to Afghanistan.

Nevertheless, the argument is sound. Afghanistan has to be seen in the context of the region, not as a country in isolation. If the Taleban were allowed to dominate Afghanistan, there are enough links with their fellow fanatics in Pakistan — in the Taleban and in al-Qaeda — for the nightmare scenario to develop: jihadist extremists with their hands on nuclear weapons. British troops are not being sacrificed in vain.

For the full report click here for the TimesOnline

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

VIDEO: Insurgents accidentally blow themselves up

A group of insurgents emplacing a makeshift bomb in a dirt road in southern Afghanistan inadvertantly blow themselves up while U.S. Apaches from the 82nd Combat Aviation Brigade look on.

VIDEO: Camp Bastion Field Hospital, Helmand Province, Afghanistan

BBC report from Camp Bastion Field Hospital

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Acting Sergeant Michael Lockett MC killed in Afghanistan

It is with deep regret that the Ministry of Defence must confirm that Acting Sergeant Michael Lockett MC, of 2nd Battalion the Mercian Regiment (Worcesters and Foresters) was killed in Afghanistan on Monday 21 September 2009.

Acting Sergeant Lockett was on a dismounted patrol near Patrol Base SANDFORD in the Gereshk district of Helmand province when an explosion detonated, killing him before he could be extracted to hospital.

He was investigating and confirming the find of an Improvised Explosive Device when it exploded. Two other soldiers were injured in the same incident.

Acting Sergeant Michael Lockett MC

Acting Sergeant Michael Lockett, from Monifieth in Angus, joined 1st Battalion the Worcester and Sherwood Foresters Regiment (1 WFR) in Tidworth in 1996. The WFR became 2nd Battalion the Mercian Regiment (Worcesters and Foresters) in 2007.

Sergeant Lockett took part in every operational deployment and exercise the Battalion undertook; he served in Bosnia and Northern Ireland, and in 2009 he returned for his third tour of Afghanistan.

At Garmsir in 2007, as Platoon Sergeant in A (Grenadier) Company he displayed selfless commitment and unshakable bravery fighting and leading his Platoon to rescue wounded comrades trapped in a Taleban ambush. For his actions that night he received one of the nation's highest awards for gallantry, The Military Cross.

He spent the large majority of his career as a Machine Gunner but he held many other qualifications including Jungle Warfare Instructor and Military Tracking Instructor.

His deployment to Afghanistan in 2009 was as part of the Operational Mentoring and Liaison Team Battlegroup. He was working and operating alongside the Warriors of the Afghan National Army at Patrol Base Sandford in the Upper Gereshk Valley. His professionalism set the finest example to the Afghan Warriors. He was an inspirational leader.

Locky, as he was known to his friends, will always be remembered for his infectious laugh and prominence as a man. His leadership style was the exact mix of compassion and steel which garnered the respect of both those he led and those he served.

He was nearing the end of his tour when he died. He volunteered to stay on at his patrol base to ensure that the incoming soldiers knew as much as they could about the local area and they could reap the benefits of his vast local knowledge.

Leading men and setting an example was a familiar position for Sergeant Lockett, he died doing a job he loved and he earned the highest respect from all those who knew and worked with him. Sergeant Lockett leaves behind his children Connor (eight), Chloe (seven) and Courtney (five), family, and his girlfriend Belinda.

His Girlfriend, Belinda English, said:

"For Queen and Country."

His parents, Mal and April paid the following tribute:

"We are immensely proud of Mike - he was everything that we could ever have wanted in a son and was a devoted father to Connor, Chloe and Courtney. He was always positive, and always seemed larger than life.

"Words simply cannot express what he meant to his close and wider family and his many friends. His passing has left a huge void in all our lives that can never be filled. We can only take solace in the fact that he died doing a job that he was born to do with his 'boys' in 2 MERCIAN Regiment.

"He would want us all to celebrate his life by remembering the many good times, with a cold beer, broad smile and looking forward to the future."

VIDEO: Camp Bastion airport, Helmand

Bastion airport in Afghanistan is Britain's fifth busiest airport. It sees thousands of air movements a month and is a vital support element to troops on the ground.

Germans focus on Afghanistan after al-Qaida threat

New threats by al-Qaida and fierce criticism of a German-ordered airstrike that killed dozens have pushed Germany's mission in Afghanistan to the forefront of this country's national election campaign.

Chancellor Angela Merkel, like her foreign minister and main rival in Sunday's vote, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, has steadfastly backed the deployment even though polls say half the public wants the 4,220 soldiers to come home.

On Monday, Merkel urged calm over the terror threats against Germans if they do not elect candidates who will end the mission, saying "people can be confident that everything is being done for their security."

Despite her reassuring words — and a visible increase in security measures at train stations and airports with police toting automatic weapons — Afghanistan will be the top foreign policy priority for whoever wins the election.

"Afghanistan has slowly grown into a real problem for German politicians," said Eberhard Sandschneider of the German Council on Foreign Relations, noting that some 90 percent of lawmakers support the mission.

"Sooner or later that will lead to a highly problematic situation," he said.

Heading into the election, only the minor Left party campaigned on that issue and both Merkel and Steinmeier were happy to ignore it. That changed Sept. 4 after a German army colonel called in a U.S. airstrike on a pair of hijacked tanker trucks in northern Afghanistan. The bombing appears to have killed dozens of Afghan civilians.

A poll by the Forsa institute, taken Sept. 10-11, shows 55 percent of Germans want their troops brought home. Islamic militants appear bent on changing that.

German voters are far more concerned about the economy than foreign policy. Fully 57 percent of those surveyed in the Forsa poll said parties' positions on Afghanistan played no role whatsoever in deciding their vote; just 3 percent described it as a very important factor. The poll had an error margin of plus or minus 3 percentage points.

A video surfaced Friday featuring an al-Qaida extremist threatening Germans with "a rude awakening after the elections" if they did not push their political parties to pull out the soldiers. The same militant, speaking in German, issued another message two days later, also mentioning Afghanistan.

For the full report click here for the AP story

Monday, September 21, 2009

McChrystal's blunt warning to the West - BBC

By Martin Patience
BBC News, Kabul

This leaked report offers a blunt and bleak assessment of the challenges facing Afghanistan - and a timetable for possible failure.

Put simply, General Stanley McChrystal acknowledges that the US could lose this war in the next 12 months.

The US commander wants more boots on the ground.

He calls for a speeding up in the training of the Afghan security forces.

And, in the coming weeks, Gen McChrystal is expected to ask for as many as 30,000 extra US forces.

But after a deeply flawed election in Afghanistan which has yet to be resolved, there is growing opposition in President Barack Obama's own Democratic Party to the war.

The US president has said that strategy must be agreed first, before decisions on resources are made.

But Gen McChrystal's recommendation to speed up the training of Afghan security forces will be widely supported.

For the West, it ultimately offers an exit strategy. They will be able to reduce the number of troops deployed here as Afghan security forces grow in numbers and experience.

The recommendation will also be welcomed by the Afghan government, which has long called for greater training of its security forces.

The government will also welcome Gen McChrystal's renewed emphasis on protecting the Afghan population rather than focusing wholly on capturing and killing insurgents.

Risk for reward

Gen McChrystal heavily criticises the way Nato forces have operated until now, saying that they had been "pre-occupied" with their own security and have distanced themselves from the Afghan population "physically and psychologically".

"We could defeat ourselves," he writes.

The US commander wants more forces out on patrol and greater restraint in fire fights to protect the lives of civilians often caught up in the violence.

But that means putting troops in more danger - something that may not be necessarily welcomed by soldiers or some European capitals who have sold this as a state-building mission.

But Gen McChrystal also points out that this conflict will not be won by the military alone.

Yes, the military can provide security - but it cannot provide jobs, health facilities, and opportunities for children to go to school.

Taliban advantage

That is the job of the Afghan government, which, as Gen McChrystal points out, is riddled with corruption and commands little support from the Afghan population.

The UN and the international community know that they must do more to persuade, and help, the Afghan government to provide better services and rule of law of their people.

But it is a huge challenge, and some diplomats say it may take "generations" before the country sees effective governance.

And this issue is being successfully exploited by the Taliban.

The insurgents are growing in influence, control larger parts of the country, and are setting up "shadow governments" such as courts that offer quick justice.

And that is ultimately what this conflict will boil down to. Who will the Afghans themselves choose?

Will the Afghans decide to support their government backed by the West, or will they, in the end, decide to side with Taliban?

That is what Gen McChrystal means when he talks about winning and losing this war.

McChrystal: More Forces or 'Mission Failure' - Washington Post

Top U.S. Commander For Afghan War Calls Next 12 Months Decisive

By Bob Woodward
Washington Post Staff Writer

The top U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan warns in an urgent, confidential assessment of the war that he needs more forces within the next year and bluntly states that without them, the eight-year conflict "will likely result in failure," according to a copy of the 66-page document obtained by The Washington Post.

Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal says emphatically: "Failure to gain the initiative and reverse insurgent momentum in the near-term (next 12 months) -- while Afghan security capacity matures -- risks an outcome where defeating the insurgency is no longer possible."

His assessment was sent to Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates on Aug. 30 and is now being reviewed by President Obama and his national security team.

McChrystal concludes the document's five-page Commander's Summary on a note of muted optimism: "While the situation is serious, success is still achievable."

But he repeatedly warns that without more forces and the rapid implementation of a genuine counterinsurgency strategy, defeat is likely. McChrystal describes an Afghan government riddled with corruption and an international force undermined by tactics that alienate civilians.

He provides extensive new details about the Taliban insurgency, which he calls a muscular and sophisticated enemy that uses modern propaganda and systematically reaches into Afghanistan's prisons to recruit members and even plan operations.

McChrystal's assessment is one of several options the White House is considering. His plan could intensify a national debate in which leading Democratic lawmakers have expressed reluctance about committing more troops to an increasingly unpopular war. Obama said last week that he will not decide whether to send more troops until he has "absolute clarity about what the strategy is going to be."

The commander has prepared a separate detailed request for additional troops and other resources, but defense officials have said he is awaiting instructions before sending it to the Pentagon.

Senior administration officials asked The Post over the weekend to withhold brief portions of the assessment that they said could compromise future operations. A declassified version of the document, with some deletions made at the government's request, appears at

McChrystal makes clear that his call for more forces is predicated on the adoption of a strategy in which troops emphasize protecting Afghans rather than killing insurgents or controlling territory. Most starkly, he says: "[I]nadequate resources will likely result in failure. However, without a new strategy, the mission should not be resourced."

For the full report click here for the Washington Post website

Bloody Afghan rescue puts journalism in the dock - AFP

The bloody rescue of a New York Times reporter in Afghanistan has spurred accusations of media recklessness, a charge the paper's editor denies but one that has prompted some soul searching.

Early on September 9, the buzz of military aircraft over northern Afghanistan gave British-Irish journalist Stephen Farrell the first inclination he was about to be rescued.

Within moments, the veteran New York Times reporter was free -- wrenched by British special forces beyond the grasp of his Taliban captors, ending four terrifying days of detention.

But Farrell's liberation cost the lives of his Afghan colleague, Sultan Munadi -- a father of two, 29-year-old British paratrooper John Harrison, an Afghan woman and child, and scores of Taliban fighters.

As details of the rescue emerged they were quickly followed by recriminations.

Four days earlier Farrell and Munadi, both dressed in local clothes, had set off to investigate a NATO air strike near Kunduz, where there were reports of numerous civilian casualties.

It was just the latest in a series of deadly coalition air strikes that killed civilians, deepening Afghan opposition to NATO's eight-year-long mission and making a mockery of a US drive to limit civilian casualties.

Munadi's brother accused the British government of being too quick to launch the raid, claiming that negotiations to the free the pair may have worked. He also lashed out at the Afghan governments, the Taliban and the New York Times.

British Foreign Secretary David Miliband, under heavy criticism for ordering the raid, lambasted Farrell for ignoring what he said was "very strong" advice not to travel to the area.

Richard Kemp, a former member of COBRA, the British government's top-level crisis group often called on respond to kidnappings, acknowledged the story was an important one, but said Farrell had more than his own life to consider.

"He unnecessarily risked the lives of his Afghan fellow journalist Sultan Munadi -- and those who might have to rescue him," Kemp wrote in the Daily Mail.

Con Coughlin, executive foreign editor of London's Daily Telegraph was more scathing, writing that Farrell was "gung-ho" and "increasingly seen as a reckless idiot who deliberately placed himself and others in jeopardy in pursuit of journalist glory."

In an email to AFP, Times executive editor Bill Keller defended the paper's role in the "heartbreaking" episode and described the formidable calculus of deciding whether to embark on an important, but potentially dangerous assignment.

"It was an important story -- a report of scores of dead innocents at a very sensitive period in the politics of Afghanistan -- that could not be verified by phone calls or the Afghan rumor mill," Keller wrote.

"It called out for on-the-scene reporting if possible."

"I have seen no evidence that his reporting mission was reckless or irresponsible," he said.

On the Times website, Farrell said he was comfortable with his decision to go to the area, but admitted he and Munadi may have lingered there too long.

There seems little doubt that today's conflict zones, particularly in the Islamic world are dangerous places for the western media, or locals who are linked to it.

Read the full report on the AFP website here

VIDEO: Soldiers return from bloody Afghan summer - ITN

104 Sappers have come home after a six-month deployment to Helmand Province.

The ‘GI’ helmet that will help our troops to shoot straighter - Daily Mail

New helmets designed to help British troops to target the enemy are being rushed out to Afghanistan this weekend.

The Ministry of Defence is issuing the lighter headgear following soldiers’ complaints that the current helmet is unsuitable for firefights with the Taliban.

Five thousand Mark 7 helmets, along with new Osprey Assault body armour, are being sent to Afghanistan for the troops of 11 Brigade who are starting a six-month operational tour.

The new British-made Mark 7 helmet is the first major change for 20 years – and looks more like an American helmet than the current pudding basin style. It is shaped to allow a soldier to lie flat and shoot straight, without the rear rim digging into his body armour and tipping the front rim over his eyes.

British soldiers are frequently having to fight the Taliban crawling along the ground for cover. Many have complained that when they have to fire while lying down, they struggle to aim quickly at what may be only a fleeting target.

In July, The Mail on Sunday highlighted the case of Trooper Jack Sadler, 21, from Exeter, who served with the Special Observation Battery, 4/73 Royal Artillery. He was killed in 2007 by a landmine.

He had complained to his father, Ian, about the helmets, saying: ‘The ones we’ve been issued with are too big. In the prone position, the back clonks on the plates in the body armour and the front comes down over your eyes so you can’t see to aim your weapon.’

The MoD’s Urgent Operational Requirement order for new helmets was accelerated by the introduction of US-made Advanced Combat Optical Gunsights (ACOG) that sit higher on the soldiers’ SA80 rifles.

Lt Col Matthew Tresidder, chief of staff of the Defence Clothing and Textiles Agency, said 10,000 new helmets and body armour kits have been bought by the Ministry of Defence for £16million. The first 5,000 sets are going to infantry soldiers, engineers, drivers, medics, dog handlers and anyone who regularly goes ‘outside the wire’ of protected bases.

The remainder of the 9,000 servicemen in Afghanistan will continue to use the current protective kit.

The new helmet and body armour have the same degree of protection against bullets and shrapnel as the current models but the helmet is slightly lighter – 2lb 4oz instead of 3lb 5oz for the Mark 6 helmet – and has better chin strapping for stability.

The Osprey Assault body armour has a thinner ballistic plate and avoids strain on the shoulders by spreading its 27lb 8oz load between the shoulders and waist.

It comes with built-in pockets for ammunition clips, hand grenades and water and its light grey colour is intended to be more suitable for Afghanistan.

Lt Col Tresidder said the remaining 5,000 sets will be sent out with further improvements in about 18 months. ‘This is an interim design,’ he said. ‘There’s a lot of research and testing going on that will make body protection even better.’

The next upgrade to the British helmet may contain a newly-developed shock-absorbing gel whose molecules instantly stiffen when struck by a bullet and
provide extra ballistic protection without extra weight or size.

There have been many versions of helmet. The wider-rimmed First World War version replaced the police constable-style helmet. But the design was little changed for the Second World War.

The more bell-shaped Mark 5 was introduced in 1952 and saw service through the Troubles in Northern Ireland, until the Mark 6 in 1980. The current Mark 6A came into use in 1987.

Read more on the Mail website here

Saving Private Allen - NOTW

Minutes after this picture Andy was blown up. But medics dedicated themselves to..

By Simon Ward,News of the World

WEARY squaddie Andy Allen flashes a glance at the camera as he rests for a few seconds against a dusty mud wall on gruelling foot patrol in Afghanistan's Helmand province.

Just 18 MINUTES LATER the young father-to-be is caught in the blast of a deadly improvised explosive device. His right leg is torn off, his left leg shredded and his eyes blinded.

Terrified pals see the 19-year-old's British soldier's mangled body in a pool of blood and believe he is dead.

But he lets out a moan - and their frantic efforts to save him followed by months of intensive work by specialist doctors, nurses and therapists means he SURVIVES . . . and even gets to see his new baby.

Andy's powerful tale of tragedy, bravery and hope is the first time a soldier's story has been chronicled on video from shortly before a devastating injury all the way through to his recuperation.

The film footage - and experiences of other soldiers including para Tom Neathway, 25, who lost his legs and an arm in a blast - have been made into a BBC documentary, thanks to the Ministry of Defence letting cameras follow wounded troops.

On the News of The World website, using the film stills, they tell Andy's incredible and moving tale.

In bid to win Afghan hearts Taliban issue 'code of conduct' - Mirror

'No more beheadings'

By Rupert Hamer, Mirror

The leader of the Taliban has banned beheadings and torture in a sick "code of conduct" designed to win the hearts and minds of the Afghan people.

The cynical ploy comes after local commanders enjoyed orgies of violence - filming executions, kidnapping civilians and mutilating prisoners.

Now evil Taliban chief Mullah Omar has ordered them to end the brutality which is pushing local people towards supporting Nato troops.

The code - captured by British soldiers after a recent battle in Sangin - has been seen by the Sunday Mirror.

British and American intelligence experts say it suggests the Taliban might be starting to unravel and are trying to keep fighters disciplined.

The code also reveals the Taliban is trying to appear less savage in a battle to win over moderate Afghans. In 10 months last year rebels beheaded 100 people - mostly in Helmand where 9,000 British troops are serving.

Under the code - the first Omar, a close ally of al-Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden, has issued since 2006 - insurgents are banned from executing prisoners by beheading. They must be shot and fighters must not film executions.

Commanders are also ordered not to mutilate or torture people. The code says: "Cutting noses, lips and ears off people is completely prohibited."

They are forbidden from using children or teenagers "that have no beards" for battle - including suicide attacks. And Taliban fighters are barred from hoarding "war booty" for themselves. They must divide it equally ensuring "the poor" get a share.

In a personal note, Omar warns commanders: "Keep good relations with your friends and the local people and do not let the enemy divide you." He adds: "This is our mission - to keep people and their property safe. Do not let those people that love money take our people's property."

The intelligence report on the code - marked "For official use only" - says: "The Taliban's 'central treasury' has been drained numerous times due to false claims from Taliban commanders requesting payment for attacks they did not commit or to 'replace' war equipment under false pretences.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

BBC newsreader Kate Silverton makes a journey to the Afghan frontline

By Kate Silverton

Armed with wet wipes, lucky charm and flak jacket, the BBC newsreader makes a revealing - and dangerous - journey to the Afghan frontline.

Thursday, September 3

What to pack for a war-zone? One pair of trousers, some clean shirts and the Army surplus desert boots I love (they're men's boots but they are so comfy and it's the only time I've been grateful to have size 9 feet). I then add the book Afghanistan Over A Cup Of Tea by legendary American aid worker Nancy Dupree, which gives a comprehensive look at Afghanistan's chequered history.

Into my bag also goes my lucky charm, a silver ladybird coin my fiance Mike tucked into my luggage as a surprise gift when I went to Iraq in 2006. And finally I add my notepad.
I call in to the BBC to collect my flak jacket and helmet and take a last look at the stories running on the various news wires. I notice that Terry Wogan is taking a swipe at autocuties. I look down at my kit, think of what lies ahead and smile wryly.

Friday, 3am, RAF Brize Norton, Oxfordshire

I've snatched a few hours' sleep in a local hotel and I am now with my crew as we pack up our kit and head for the airport. It's an airport like no other, full of soldiers dressed in desert fatigues, and the loudspeaker is calling passengers for Kabul, Kandahar and Camp Bastion.

Most of those here have been with their families for two weeks' rest and recreation after a particularly tough tour in Helmand. They have mixed feelings about their return. I speak to a soldier who lost a leg in Iraq to a landmine --he is looking forward to getting back to work. He won't be on the frontline, but says just being with his mates will give him a sense of normality.

Friday, Middle East

We touch down in the Middle East and are ushered into a large air-conditioned tin hut, where we are told to get ready for the next leg of our journey - into one of the most dangerous places in the world.

I chat with a guy who supports the teams which locate and destroy Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs), the roadside bombs which have killed and maimed so many British servicemen in recent months. He explains how the threat is increasing and the strain on the men is immense. He says he's 'threaders' - Army slang for exhausted and strung out.

We board our next flight - a C17 military transport plane. I am huddled on a canvas seat, clasped by an old-fashioned lap-belt. After two hours we're told to put on our helmets and body armour, and the atmosphere changes. We land at midnight.
Special forces soldiers are first off the plane. The journalist in me is curious to know who they are and where they are going.

Read the full article on the Daily Mail web site by clicking here:

Bundeswehr sees need for more troops in Afghanistan

A German military commander in Afghanistan says his forces there need more soldiers and equipment to operate effectively, the news magazine Focus reported Saturday.

German forces taking part in the NATO mission in Afghanistan “cannot achieve” the “immediate and extensive improvement of the situation,” with the current force of 4,200 soldiers, said General Jörg Vollmer in a report seen by the newsmagazine.

Vollmer said German troops would need “at least” one more company of infantry to secure the region around Kundus in northern Afghanistan where German forces are concentrated. He also said his soldiers’ required more helicopters to be effective.

The commander's report appears to conflict with foreign minister and current Social Democratic candidate for Chancellor Frank-Walter Steinmeier's vision for Afghanistan.

In an interview with Focus also published Saturday, Steinmeier said he hoped for “sustainable troop reduction” in the next legislative period after September 27 elections though he declined to give a date as to when a drawdown could begin.

Steinmeier ruled out a complete withdrawal of German troops from Afghanistan until at least 2013.

The German mission in Afghanistan is unpopular with German voters though it has widespread political support from four of the country's five main political parties.

On Friday, the terrorist group Al-Qaeda released a video online threatening Germany with terror attacks if its troops in Afghanistan were not removed.

Danish soldier killed in Helmand

A Danish soldier has been killed in Afghanistan and another injured after their patrol came under fire from insurgents.

The two troops were immediately evacuated by helicopter, but one was declared dead at hospital.
Danish army officials say the attack took place in the southern province of Helmand – the scene of some of Afghanistan’s most deadly violence.

Denmark currently has around 700 troops in the country most of whom serve under British command.

In Afghanistan since 2001, Denmark has proportionally suffered the heaviest losses compared to other allies in the NATO led mission.

Panther's Claw troops back in UK - BBC

Soldiers who have taken part in some of the fiercest fighting in Afghanistan are returning to a Wiltshire base later to be reunited with their families.

Members of the 33 Armoured Engineer Squadron, 26 Engineer Regiment played a key role in Operation Panther's Claw in Helmand during a six-month deployment.

At times, they were working in temperatures above 46C.

The squadron will be welcomed home by friends and family at Swinton Barracks in Tidworth, at about 1600 BST.

Squadron Commander Major Andy Hanna said every soldier had had their "mental and physical reserves tested to the very limit".

During Operation Panther's Claw, the Royal Engineers were required to block or control 13 bridges over a canal as other troops pushed forward in a major offensive against the Taliban.
They also cleared lines where homemade explosives had been laid and blew holes in enemy compounds.

Major Hanna said: "Whilst we witnessed the bloodiest summer of fighting since operations began in the south of the country, it has not been all offensive.

"The Squadron completed the most ambitious construction project outside Camp Bastion to date, it handed back a school to the local people and significantly enhanced the protection to the International Security Assistance Forces and the Afghan National Security Forces within its area of operations."

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Army Bomb Classes To Halve Helmand Deaths - Sky News

Geoff Meade, Defence correspondent
The Army has overhauled its training in the hope it can more than halve the Afghanistan death rate, Sky News has learned.

Military drivers, suppliers and even chefs are being trained to spot deadly explosives as figures show that eight out of ten deaths are down to bombs.

Despite the constant political argument over armoured vehicles, the Army believes more lives would be saved from better training than from a few more Viking vehicles.

It has redrawn the syllabus for recruits' basic training to make spotting and avoiding Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) the priority.

Senior officers now claim that Britain's management of bomb threats is among the best in the world, with far more devices discovered than are actually detonated.

Counter Measures Specialist Colonel Christopher Clayden said troops are being trained to spot the bombs so that devices can be made safe.

"Ideally we need to get at the bombers, we need to get left of the bang, as we say, to prevent them being put there in the first place.

"But once they are placed it isn't too late. We have the ability to protect and the drills and skills to minimise the casualties."

Intelligence reports on bombs defused intact are incorporated into lectures within days so that trainees get the latest information.

Trainees also hear from soldiers who have lived through such attacks, like ten-year veteran Corporal Mohsin Shah who had a narrow escape when a vehicle in front struck an anti-tank mine.

"With an IED threat you don't know where it's coming from. It's an invisible threat. Every step you take, you worry about it.

"You don't know what's going to happen in the next couple of seconds or the next moment.

"So it is more frightful dealing with IEDs rather than a direct contact with the enemy."

The Army believes that an increase in armoured vehicles would save 30% more lives, but hope this new form of training could save double that percentage.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Sappers complete IED training for Afghanistan deployment

Ahead of their deployment to Afghanistan next month, a squadron of sappers from 33 Engineer Regiment have completed their final stage of training with deadly live explosives and munitions.

Following a rigorous six-month package of training, 100 members of 49 Field Squadron (Explosive Ordnance Disposal) are deploying in October as part of 11 Light Brigade.

49 Fd Sqn (EOD) underwent training with live explosives and munitions at the MOD Shoeburyness test and evaluation range in Essex last week as part of a package designed to test their skills when dealing with explosives and improvised explosive devices to the limit before their deployment.

The three-day training event at Shoeburyness allowed the Sappers to get up close to live munitions, handle live explosives and carry out a number of controlled explosions in preparation for the real thing.

Captain Gareth Bateman, Second-in-Command of 49 Fd Sqn (EOD), will be based in Camp Bastion, the largest British base in Helmand, as he oversees the work of his men on operations. He said:

"The training here at Shoeburyness has been the final step of six months of preparations, making sure that the training is fresh in the minds of us all before we get out there so we can do the best job possible.

"We've been able to get hands-on with a range of munitions and have been able to test the full range of techniques, including some of the more scientific methods through to the big controlled explosions."

Afghanistan has suffered conflict for decades and there are estimated to be many thousands of unexploded devices littering the countryside, from huge anti-tank mines to rocket-propelled grenades and mortars.

Not only do theses devices pose a deadly threat to Afghan civilians and coalition forces, but the Taliban have been able to use them to build the deadly improvised explosive devices (IEDs) which are increasingly taking their toll on the coalition, Afghan forces and Afghan civilians.

49 Fd Sqn (EOD) will focus on removing the threat that discarded devices pose, as well as assisting in dealing with the IEDs deployed by the insurgents:

"We are really looking forward to this tour," said Captain Bateman. "Many of us have already been to Iraq or Afghanistan before so we have a level of experience, but there are some for whom this will be the first time away. We are well prepared for the job at hand."

Taliban militants 'can be turned' - BBC

The British general tasked with persuading Taliban militants to stop fighting in Afghanistan has said the mission is "do-able".

Gen Sir Graeme Lamb was giving his first interview since taking up his new role after conducting similar negotiations with insurgents in Iraq.

He told the BBC he would ask local village elders to identify militants most likely to give up their guns.

But Gen Lamb also admitted the war in Afghanistan "had drifted".

The former British special forces commander was appointed in August to mastermind a programme of reconciliation with members of the Taliban.

He came out of retirement to take up the position, for which he was selected by the overall US and Nato commander in Afghanistan, Gen Stanley McChrystal.

Dialogue drive

Speaking to the BBC from Kabul, Gen Lamb said: "The reason I've taken this post is because I do believe it's do-able. I am absolutely convinced we can do this."

For the rest of the BBC report click here

Car bomb in Kabul kills 6 Italians, 10 Afghans

(AP Photo/Manish Swarup)

A suicide car bomber killed six Italian soldiers and 10 Afghan civilians Thursday in the heavily guarded capital of Kabul — a grim reminder of the Taliban's reach amid political uncertainty in Afghanistan.

The Taliban claimed responsibility for the deadliest attack for the Italian contingent in the country.

The bomber rammed his explosives-filled car into two Italian military vehicles in a convoy about midday. Four Italian soldiers were also wounded, said Italian Defense Minister Ignazio La Russa. The Afghan Interior Ministry said an additional 55 civilians were injured.

The explosion shattered windows in buildings about half a mile (a kilometer) away and shook offices and homes throughout the central Afghan neighborhood that houses embassies and military bases.

VIDEO: Tackling Taliban's deadliest weapon - BBC

By Caroline Wyatt
Defence correspondent, BBC News

Click here to see the BBC Video report

Improvised explosive devices - IEDs - are the deadliest threat facing British forces in Afghanistan, and more resources than ever are being deployed to limit the threat of the Taliban's tactic of choice.

The bleak and windswept land with its thin tufts of grass is criss-crossed with wires and oblong packages half-hidden in holes in the ground. We are warned not to get too close - the ground beneath our feet is riddled with explosives.

This is not Helmand, but Shoeburyness, Essex, where British army bomb disposal experts are doing their final training before they deploy to Afghanistan later this month with 11 Brigade.

Training to counter this threat has increased markedly over the past months, not only for bomb disposal experts but also for ordinary soldiers now acquiring more specialised counter-IED knowledge as part of basic training.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Acting Serjeant Stuart McGrath and Trooper Brett Hall killed following incidents in Afghanistan

It is with deep sadness that the Ministry of Defence must confirm the deaths of Acting Serjeant* Stuart McGrath of 2nd Battalion The Rifles (2 RIFLES), and Trooper Brett Hall of 2nd Battalion The Royal Tank Regiment (2 RTR), following separate incidents in Afghanistan.

Acting Sjt Hall was killed as a result of an explosion in Gereshk District, Helmand province, on the afternoon of 16 September 2009, dying from his wounds before he could be extracted to hospital. Tpr Hall died, also on 16 September, at the Royal College of Defence Medicine Selly Oak, following injuries sustained when an explosion hit his Combat Logistic Patrol in rural north-west Helmand province.

Acting Serjeant Stuart McGrath, 2nd Battalion The Rifles

Serjeant Stuart McGrath, aged 28, was born in Princes Risborough, Buckinghamshire, on 5 December 1980. He began his Army training in October 1999 and joined 1st Battalion The Royal Green Jackets in June the following year (The Royal Green Jackets was one of five infantry regiments which merged to form The Rifles in 2007).
He made an early start to junior leadership, completing a Junior Non Commissioned Officer (JNCO) Cadre in November 2001. From an early stage he specialised in mortaring, completing both standard and advanced mortar courses with excellent results in 2004 and 2005.

From the beginning he stood out as a fiercely bright and determined individual. Not being satisfied with the standard career path for a Mortarman, he put himself forward to attend the Platoon Serjeants' Battle Course following his tour in Afghanistan; he wanted to push himself into the most demanding roles the Army had to offer.

An intensely energetic and fit Rifleman, Serjeant McGrath led a team from the Battalion to complete the Dublin Marathon in November 2008. Younger than all the others in his role, he had endless potential.

He died in an IED explosion on 16 September 2009 near Forward Operating Base Keenan.

Serjeant McGrath leaves his wife, Emma, three sons, Ryan, Daniel, and Dylan, and his daughter, Niamh, born in June whilst he was already deployed to Afghanistan.

His wife, Mrs Emma McGrath, said:

"Stuart was a loving husband, amazing father, son, brother cousin and a friend to many. We are all so very proud of him and what he achieved. He died doing a job he loved. He is our Hero and we will never forget him."

Trooper Brett Hall, 2nd Battalion The Royal Tank Regiment

Trooper Brett Hall, aged 21, was brought up in Dartmouth, Devon. He joined the Army in November 2006, aged 18. He leaves behind parents Susan and Peter.

Lt Col Marcus Simson, Brett's Commanding Officer, said:

"Trooper Brett Hall joined the Army in November 2006, undergoing training at the Army Training Regiment at Winchester and then at the Armour School in Bovington where he qualified as a Challenger 2 tank driver. In October 2007, aged just 19-and-a-half he joined the 2nd Royal Tank Regiment in Tidworth.

"At the Regiment, Trooper Hall quickly made a name for himself. He loved vehicles and he loved making them work. His talent and enthusiasm was quickly spotted and he was soon driving for the Squadron Headquarters – a rare promotion for someone of his experience. In November 2008, Trooper Hall began preparations and training to deploy to Afghanistan with his Squadron. He converted his driving skills to the Viking vehicle that he would be driving and once more his thirst for knowledge was all too apparent.

"Trooper Hall deployed to Helmand province with his Squadron in early June 2009, the week of his 21st birthday.

"As with everything he did, Trooper Hall proved a tower of strength amongst his Squadron in theatre. Quietly getting on with business, and not one to shout or seek attention, he would be found on the tank park making sure that his vehicle was ready to go, and when it was, helping someone else with theirs.

"His endless cheerfulness and his happy smile, alongside his talent and enthusiasm, promised much for the future. Tragically, it is not to be. Trooper Hall was critically injured on the 12th September 2009 whilst taking part in a major operation to the south of Musa Quala when his vehicle was attacked by an insurgent Improvised Explosive Device.

"Although given life saving treatment at the scene of the attack, and evacuated by helicopter to the hospital at Camp Bastion, Trooper Hall died of his wounds in hospital in the UK on 16th September 2009.

"Known Regimentally as Albert, Trooper Hall's death leaves an indescribable hole in our hearts and it is only some consolation that he died whilst surrounded by his family. He was loved by all who knew him as a happy, hardworking young man who was full of fun, was desperately proud of his Squadron and their achievements in Afghanistan, and who cared deeply about his mates. We are proud to have known him and to have served alongside him."

Major Charlie Burbrige, Egypt Squadron Leader, said:

"Trooper 'Albert' Hall died as a result of injuries incurred from an explosion south of Musa Quala in Helmand province. He received fatal wounds at the controls of the Viking which he drove. Albert had a rare talent for engines, even amongst Tankies. He was happiest when he was covered from head to toe in the grease and oil that are the mark of a true Tankie.

"His vehicles never broke down. It was a matter of personal pride for him and the abiding image of Albert that will remain with us is of his shaggy haircut, cigar and filthy coveralls. His ever present smile appeared to shine through the grime. He was fit and enjoyed the esoteric pleasure of fell running and it was typical of him to pursue this sport without fanfare but to the high standards that he set himself.

"Albert never sought the limelight but when something was happening he would be amongst the group or on the very edge, smiling at what he was watching. He was quiet and extremely popular, loved by all in the squadron for simply being a good bloke and a very hard worker. He was a Tankie through and through and he will be desperately missed by us all."

Victory in Afghanistan 'is vital' - BBC

Defeat for allied forces in Afghanistan would have an "intoxicating impact" on extremists around the world, the new head of the British Army has warned.

General Sir David Richards said the failure of a coalition of such powerful western nations would show terrorists that "anything might be possible".

And it would have an "enduring grand strategic impact" on Britain's global reputation, Gen Richards added.

But he also said he was optimistic the allies would get the strategy right.

In his first major speech since taking over last month as the Chief of the General Staff, Gen Richards said defeat could have an "alienating and potentially catalytic effect" on millions of Afghans.

'Debilitating impact'

He also said failure could provoke a resurgence of al-Qaeda-inspired terrorism and the spread of instability to nuclear-armed Pakistan.

Gen Richards said: "Add to that the hugely intoxicating impact on extremists world-wide of the perceived defeat of the USA and Nato - the most powerful alliance in the history of the world and the debilitating impact on these countries.

"Anything might then be possible in their eyes and that's what we should expect, despite the skill and courage of our police, intelligence and security services.

"On a different note entirely, factor in the enduring grand strategic impact on the UK's authority and reputation in the world of the defeat of the British Armed Forces, and its impact on public sentiment here in the UK."

Gen Richards said the war in Afghanistan was a "signpost" indicating the nature of wars in the future - "asymmetric" conflicts with less need for traditional military hardware like tanks and warplanes.

'Horse and tank moment'

He said globalisation meant future conflicts were more likely to involve non-state actors and failed states, like Afghanistan, rather than traditional wars between states.

"How we deal with the threat posed by violent extremism, often embedded in dangerously radicalised states, will be an issue that will dominate our professional lives," he said.

In the future attacks are more likely to come via "the use of guerillas and Hezbollah-style proxies," he said.

This in turn would influence the shape of the military, which he said is facing a "horse and tank moment", in which traditional combat power is often being rendered "irrelevant".

Gen Richards' speech coincides with comments from a British general that Afghan insurgents could be paid to lay down their weapons and stop fighting.

Lt Gen Sir Graeme Lamb, who is tasked with overseeing a programme of reconciliation with moderate elements of the Taliban, told the BBC the "vast majority" of the Taliban were "guns for hire" motivated by money.

The former special forces commander said he believed "you can buy an insurgency if you have enough money".

Earlier the Ministry of Defence revealed that a total of 71,560 members of Britain's armed forces have served in Afghanistan since 2001.